Accessible humor takes the stage at Laughfest

Gilda’s Laughfest is putting accessibility on stage by presenting D.J. Demers, a comedian who makes comedy relatable to people with hearing loss.

LaughFest and Disability Advocates of Kent County are partnering to bring Demers to the festival. He will perform on March 8 at the Special Olympics Michigan Unified Sports & Inclusion Center, 160 68th St. SW, Grand Rapids.  
Jon Cauchi uses humor to raise awareness about living with a disaiblity. In this photo, Jon Cauchi is wearing a short sleeve light blue shirt. He is standing, holding his two thumbs up and smiling.
Demers’ stand-up comedy elicits laughs and often educates the audience through his stories about his experience with hearing devices and hearing loss. Demers ensures his shows are accessible to all by using an ASL interpreter for the hearing-impaired.

His opening act will be local comedian Jon Cauchi, who is vision impaired. His day job is working as the diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility speaker for Disability Advocates of Kent County, where he previously served as a youth transition specialist.

“I am extremely honored to warm up the crowd for Demers, I feel we both have similar goals in comedy, to show the real and funny side of life with a disability," says Cauchi. “I got on stage for the first time at an open mic style event for Laughfest in 2017 and did two more shows for Laughfest in 2018 and 2019, a global pandemic later, I decided to really give stand up ago, and now I am back at Laughfest opening for a must-see comedian. How cool is that?  Also, how often do you get a chance to see the blind lead the deaf?”

Gilda’s LaughFest, presented by Gun Lake Casino, runs March 8-12. It features Tig Notaro, Pete Holmes, the Clean Comedy Showcase, Daphnique Springs, and Mike Vecchione. 

“Each year we work to create a unique festival, including partnering with community organizations like Gun Lake Casino and Disability Advocates of Kent County,” says Zack Berends, festival manager. 

Accessibility is his mission

Demers, who has been wearing hearing aids since he was 4, describes his hearing loss as part of his identity and highlights accessibility as his mission, he says in an interview on

In 2017, he hosted the Here to Hear Tour, a month-long comedy road trip to break down stigmas around hearing loss.

“I had so much fun performing with interpreters, including almost every show on the Here to Hear Tour, so I knew there was an extra amount of comedy to be gleaned from that element,” he told the website.

Demers has performed on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “America’s Got Talent,” and “Conan.” He also has three stand-up albums – “[Indistinct Chatter],” “Interpreted,” and “Born In ‘86” – and has won numerous awards at comedy festivals in Canada. 

His stand-up is both personal and universal and has earned him multiple appearances at Just For Laughs, a nomination for best comedy album at the Junos (the Canadian version of the Grammys), and a growing legion of fans around the world.

Before moving to Los Angeles, D.J. achieved tremendous success in Canada. In 2015, he was awarded best breakout artist at the Canadian Comedy Awards. He won the Homegrown Comics Competition at the 2014 Montréal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, won the 2013 Toronto Comedy Brawl, and was a 2011 finalist on NBC‘s “Stand-Up for Diversity.”

Long list of events

Tickets for Demers’ show and all other events are available at or by searching LaughFest at

Charlie Berens will headline the annual Gilda’s Red Door Gala, which will be March 16.  Other events include LaughFest: Night at the Museum, LaughFest Trivia Night of Stars, Karajokee, Pop Scholars, River City Improv and The Dirty Show. More events will be announced later. 

In addition to ticketed shows, there will be free events such as Seriously Funny Adventure Challenge, Sunday Night Funnies, Kids Joke, Family Improv, the Cancer Survivors Showcase, All Y’All Showcase, Drums for All, and more.

Proceeds from Gilda’s LaughFest and LaughFest’s High Five Campaign benefit the support program offered through Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids.

“Gilda’s Club is an organization near and dear to the Gun Lake Casino family, and we are proud to once again present this seriously funny fundraising event,” said Carter Pavey, the casino’s assistant general manager. “The emotional health care Gilda’s provides in the West Michigan area is incredibly important and can make the world of a difference for anyone who is on a cancer journey, whether it be their own or a loved one.”

Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids provides free emotional healthcare to children, adults, families, and friends on any kind of cancer journey or those grieving the death of someone in their life due to any cause. It offers a variety of social and emotional support options, including support groups facilitated by licensed mental health professionals, educational opportunities, and healthy lifestyle and social activities. In-person, virtual and hybrid support options are available through its clubhouses in Grand Rapids and Lowell, and it provides community programs in schools and community centers. 

Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids is independently owned and locally operated and runs entirely on charitable donations. It is an affiliate of the Cancer Support Community, the largest professionally led nonprofit network of cancer support worldwide,  For more information, visit  

This article is a part of the year-long series Disability Inclusion, exploring the state of West Michigan’s growing disability community. The series is made possible through a partnership with Centers for Independent Living organizations across West Michigan.
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